documents and marks
page considers personal identification (eg passports,
national identity cards and DNA registers).
It covers -
provides a point of entry to the thirty page guide on
identity (including identity
crime) and a complementary profile on the Australia
Card and 2006 Access Card.
Questions of web site and document identification are
explored in the Security & Infocrime guide on this
site. There are supplementary pages on Forgery
& Fakes, on Vetting,
and on the Private Security
As a German policeman once said, you are who your
papers say you are. Take away those papers and you have
Identitification schemes - whether based on an individual's
innate characteristics (eg DNA) or external attributes
such as password or code number - facilitate participation
by individuals with the requisite credentials in the "economic,
social and political dimensions of society", including
(eg through use of a passport)
to a location (eg a region, building or document)
of a service
of a benefit
that the individual so identified is a member of a community
and not a member of a stigmatised group
regimes similarly facilitate exclusion (even extermination)
of those who do not possess the required credentials.
Questions about privacy
(eg data profiling) and the efficacy of particular technologies
such as biometrics continue
to be become more pertinent as governments - and nongovernment
organisations - seek to leverage technologies and data
archives - by identifying and tracking a range of actors
For an introduction to changing practices and issues see
the outstanding set of essays in Documenting Individual
Identity: The Development of State Practices since the
French Revolution (Princeton: Princeton Uni Press
2001) edited by Jane Caplan & John Torpey.
A passport is an official
travel document that
allows an individual to leave and return to his/her
country of citizenship and to facilitate travel from
one country to another
issued by official sources and clearly "evidences
the officially accepted identity and nationality of
dependent for validity on the issuing government vouching
for the person named in the document
Australia under the Passports
Act 1938 citizens are entitled to an Australian passport
to facilitate travel overseas (except in prescribed circumstances).
As official identification documents - perceived as having
a higher integrity than drivers' licences, the de facto
identifier for most adults - passports have a secondary
use in providing personal identification for individuals
accessing a range of government and non-government benefits.
Around one million passports and associated travel documents
are issued each year by the Department of Foreign Affairs
& Trade (DFAT), which is moving towards a new generation
of passports (including potential incorporation of microchips
that feature facial biometrics). The New Zealand equivalent
is the Passports Act 1992.
John Torpey's The Invention of the Passport: Surveillance,
Citizenship & the State (Cambridge: Cambridge Uni
Press 2000) and Mark Salter's Rights of Passage: The
Passport in International Relations (Boulder: Rienner
2003) are essential reading. Torpey's 1998 paper
Coming and Going: On the State Monopolization of the
Legitimate Means of Movement is recommended, as is
Daniel Turack's The Passport in International Law
(Lexington: Lexington Books 1972).
There are comprehensive pointers to legal frameworks,
technological developments and writing about passports
in a more detailed note
elsewhere on this site.
birth, death, marriage registration
Secularisation of Western societies has been reflected
in a shift from formal registration of births, marriages
and deaths by religious entities (typically details entered
by clergy in a parish register) to registration by government
officers. It is now mandatory to register those events
within a specified period, for example under the NSW Births,
Deaths & Marriages Act 1995 all children born
in the state must be registered with the NSW Registry
of Births, Deaths & Marriages within 60 days of the
Many agencies now provide online access to historical
and current registration data. NSW for example offers
internet access to indexes for births (1788-1905), deaths
(1788-1945) and marriages (1788-1945).
national identity card schemes
National identity cards - typically issued to all
adults in a nation, tied to a manual/electronic registration
database and featuring information such as name, age,
occupation and place of residence - have attracted interest
since the first decades of last century when perceived
community/bureaucratic needs coincided with new technologies
Use of a single identifier is comparatively recent, driven
initially by pension or other welfare schemes and subsequently
by taxation schemes. The US federal Social Security Number
(SSN) for example dates from the 1935 Social Security
Act, with adoption by the Civil Service Commission
as the official federal employee identifier in 1961, by
the Internal Revenue Service as official taxpayer identification
number in 1962 and by the Department of Defense in 1967
in lieu of the military service number.
In Australia proposals in 1987 for a national Australia
Card collapsed amid concerns about cost, implementation
and maintenance challenges and the balance between benefits
(eg relating to enhanced health services) and problems
(eg privacy). Calls for a ubiquitous identification regime
resurface periodically, most recently in October 2004
on grounds of national security. We have examined
the Australia Card debate in a supplementary profile.
In Britain a national ID card for adults was introduced
in 1915 as under wartime legislation, dropped in 1922,
reintroduced in 1939 under the National Registration
Act and dropped in 1952 after Lord Chief Justice
Goddard ruled in 1951 that police demands for individuals
show their ID cards were unlawful because not relevant
to the defence purposes for which the card was established.
In December 2003 the UK Home Office announced moves
towards introduction of a new compulsory national ID card,
with prototype cards featuring biometric data (including
fingerprint, iris and facial recognition information)
and other personal details.
The 11 September 2001 events revived enthusiasm in the
US for a national identity card, with Oracle's Larry Ellison
for example offering
his support. The report
of the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the
United States (9/11 Commission) questioned the notion
of national ID card as a panacea. It suggested that a
key problem was insufficient rigour in issuing and checking
documents, rather than the lack of a uniform identification
document. Introducing an additional form of identification
might exacerbate problems by diverting resources. Some
Commission members commented that it would be more effective
(and cheaper) to make existing forms of identification
more secure, something that would also be less harmful
to civil liberties.
Other questions about such schemes are highlighted in
the US National Academies' 2002 report
IDs – Not That Easy: Questions About Nationwide
Identity Systems and 2003 report
Who Goes There?: Authentication Through the Lens of
Privacy, which conclude that the goals of any national
identity system must be clearly stated and that a compelling
case must made before any proposal can move forward.
Joseph Eaton's Card-Carrying Americans - Privacy,
Security & the National ID Card Debate (Totowa:
Rowman & Littlefield 1996) calls for a national ID card
scheme in the US to restrict illegal immigration and fraud.
SSNs are questioned in Robert Ellis Smith's 2002 Social
Security Numbers: Uses & Abuses (PDF).
In 2005 former White House security supremo Richard Clarke
you ever wondered what good it does when they look at
your driver's license at the airport? Let me assure
you, as a former bureaucrat partly responsible for the
1996 decision to create a photo-ID requirement, it no
longer does any good whatsoever. The ID check is not
done by federal officers but by the same kind of minimum-wage
rent-a-cops who were doing the inspection of carry-on
luggage before 9/11. They do nothing to verify that
your license is real. For $48 you can buy a phony license
on the Internet (ask any 18-year-old) and fool most
airport ID checkers.
Fingerprinting is the biometric
with which many people are most familiar, either through
supplying a print or exposure to academic and popular
Systematic printing and analysis little more than a century
old but follows recognition in a range of cultures that
body parts have a unique and discernable signature. Japan
and China, for example, have used thumb prints and cow
muzzle prints to solemnise legal agreements or uniquely
identify a breeders certificate with a cow nose print.
At the turn of last century in an excess of enthusiasm
Argentina started to compile a national fingerprint register
of all citizens. There have been few other overt national
registers; most countries have followed the US approach
of tacit registers based on criminal records and prints
supplied for job applications or security clearances.
Simon Cole's Suspect Identities: A History of Fingerprinting
& Criminal Identification (Cambridge: Harvard
Uni Press 2001) offers a serviceable introduction to dactyloscopy.
Anthropometry or bertillonage (after its founder Alphonse
Bertillon) - supposedly unique identification of criminals
and worthies through detailed measurement of body features
- is of interest as an early competitor to fingerprinting.
Bertillon based his scheme on the claim that the size
of adult bones does not change throughout life and can
be readily measured to create a unique identifier searched
through a card system. Data included the height, length
and breadth of the head, the length of different fingers
and the length of forearms. Measurements were supplemented
by photographs and, in some countries, by fingerprints
(which were believed to be less reliable). Bertillon estimated
that the odds of duplicate records were 286,435,456 to
1 if 14 such traits were used.
The 1898 International Anarchist Conference - a precursor
of official gatherings in the contemporary 'war on terror'
agreed to introduce the 'portrait parlé' (spoken
picture) method of criminal identification, a refined
version of bertillonage with measurements numerically
expressed and transmitted from one country to another
by means of telephone or telegraph.
Enthusiasm for Bertillonage evaporated in 1903, when identical
measurements were obtained from two individuals at Fort
Leavenworth prison in the US.
There is a useful and entertaining introduction in Caplan
& Torpey (2001).
Many Australian cats and dogs feature an identification
chip inserted under their skin, a development that is
become more popular with declining costs and reconciliation
of competing incompatible registers.
Proposals to so identify kids or adults with radio-frequency
identification chips (RFID)
such as VeriChip
resurface periodically, most recently after the 11 September
2001 hijackings. We'll be citing particular proposals
and responses in the near future.
tattooing and branding
Towards the end of the 1800s there was a bout of enthusiasm
- a sort of tropical gothic - for mandatory tattooing
of all criminals or even all citizens for identification
with a code number, a precursor of both the barcode that
features in the nightmares of some Christian fundamentalist
groups and numbering used in Nazi concentration camps.
Developments are highlighted in Written on the Body:
The Tattoo in European and American History (Princeton:
Princeton Uni Press 2000) edited by Jane Caplan and Data
Made Flesh: Embodying Information (London: Routledge
2003) edited by Robert Mitchell & Phillip Thurtle.
Branding of criminals or practitioners of stigmatised
professions has a longer history, with liberalisation
of regimes being reflected in movement of the brand from
the cheek or forehead to the hand and later to the arm
or torso. In late ancien regime France, for example, those
sentenced to hard labor were marked on the upper arm with
'TF' (for travaux forcés), with a life sentence
being signified through the letter P (en perpétuité).
UK offenders were sometimes branded on the thumb (with
a 'T' for theft, 'F' for felon or 'M' for murder). Branding
of criminals in France formally ceased in 1832 and in
UK in 1834.
For use and abuse of genetic material as a unique
personal identifier see Who Owns Information? From
Privacy to Public Access by Anne Wells Branscomb (New
York: Basic Books 1994), Genetic Information: Acquisition,
Access and Control (New York: Kluwer 1999) edited
by Alison Thompson & Ruth Chadwick and Stored Tissue
Samples: Ethical, Legal & Public Policy Implications
(Iowa City: Iowa Uni Press 1998) edited by Robert
There is a useful discussion in Caplan & Torpey's
Documenting Individual Identity, noted above, and
in Genetic Secrets: Protecting Privacy & Confidentiality
in the Genetic Era (New Haven: Yale Uni Press 1997)
edited by Mark Rothstein.
The Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC)
and Australian Health Ethics Committee (AHEC) 2001 community
consultation paper on Protection of Human Genetic Information
along with the ALRC 2003 report
Essentially Yours: The Protection of Human Genetic
Information in Australia, a 1,200 page study covering
regulation of human genetic databases, genetic privacy
and discrimination, use of genetic testing and information
in employment, insurance, immigration, parentage testing,
sport and other contexts.
Other documents of particular value are David Crosby's
Protection of Genetic Information: An International
Comparison (London: Human Genetics Commission 2000),
the 1999 Model Forensic Procedures Bill: DNA Database
Provisions Discussion Paper from the Standing Committee
of Attorneys-General in Australia.
The Centre for Genetics & the Law (CGL)
in Hobart has a project to map Australian and overseas
Four methods of biometric
authentication have gained some degree of commercial acceptance
as mechanisms for comparatively low-cost, timely and reliable
validation (ie not requiring recourse to a specialist
laboratory). They are fingerprint (noted above), voice,
iris and face recognition.
Other proposals include recognition of retina patterns,
blood chemistry and antibody signatures, ear structure,
heart rhythm, thermal imaging of body parts (head, torso,
(walking style), typing/writing style, the pattern of
subcutaneous bloodvessels and even - on the wild side
- body odour. Steady on the garlic or cologne before you
visit the sniffer!
There is a more detailed discussion of particular
technologies on the following page. There are few published
overviews of significance; most of the literature is narrowly
technical and devoted to specialities such as retina scanning
or armpit sniffing. Two recommended introductions are
Biometrics: Advanced Identify Verification: The Complete
Guide by Julian Ashbourn (Berlin: Springer Verlag
2000) and Biometrics: Personal Identification in Networked
Society (New York: Kluwer 1999) edited by Anil Jain,
Ruud Bolle & Sharath Pankanti. For privacy
aspects see the Ontario Privacy Commissioner's 1999 discussion
Consumer Biometric Applications.
Vendors and industry bodies abound: useful starting points
are the US Biometric Consortium (BC),
the UK Association for Biometrics (AFB)
and the International Biometric Industry Association (IBIA).
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